Geauga’s #1 Dog Teaches Lasting Life Lessons
December 3, 2018 by John Karlovec

“I did say that he could do lots of tricks and even though he may be a little bit different, you can still achieve anything you want to achieve.” – Olivia Caschera

Olivia Caschera may only be 9 years old, but she already has learned a valuable lesson: being different does not need to be an obstacle to living a full life.

She learned that lesson from her dog 1-1/2-year-old dog S’mores, whose left foreleg was amputated following a traffic accident.

Despite his apparent disability, S’mores has learned tricks and discipline, and has not missed out on walks and outdoor fun with his adopted family.

So, when Geauga County Auditor Chuck Walder asked all fourth- and fifth-graders in the county to submit a short essay to help him find the #1 dog in Geauga for 2019, Olivia, a fourth-grader at Notre Dame Elementary School, wrote about S’mores.

The contest ran from Oct 1-26. Judges were Mary Balog, youth services manager at Bainbridge Public Library; Jesse Huge, youth services assistant to Burton Public Library; Christine Peace, adult reference service assistant at Chadron Public Library, Walder, Deputy Auditor Mary Beth Armao and Administrative Assistant-Deputy Auditor Pam McMahan.

Out of 39 entries from nine schools, the judges found Olivia’s essay conveyed the loyalty and love Walder and his staff were looking for in the #1 Dog in Geauga County.

“We all thought Olivia’s essay was heartfelt and she expressed her feelings open and honestly,” said McMahan. “It was a very human message on overcoming life’s obstacles that we could all learn from. She also wrote in a very different style than most of the other essays; it was like reading a short story.”

During a Dec. 3 presentation at the Provincial Center at the Sisters of Notre Dame campus in Munson Township, Olivia was given a lifetime dog tag for S’mores; a special tag marked “#1,” the #1 dog certificate and a digital photo frame to capture more moments with S’mores.

New this year, Walder also presented NDES with a check for $500 to be used at the school’s discretion to benefit all students.

“So what I wrote about was his story and why I think he’s the #1 dog,” Olivia told her fellow students. “I did say that he could do lots of tricks and even though he may be a little bit different, you can still achieve anything you want to achieve.”

“That’s something we talk about here at NDES all the time, that we are all unique and special, and we all have our own gifts and talents to share,” added Principal Barbara Doering.

Olivia wrote that S’mores was a stray dog, living a happy life, until he tried to cross a road and was hit.

“The person that hit him called the vet. The vet came to bring him back to the shelter. They took some tests and they found out that his leg had to be amputated,” she said. “So they did, but that wasn’t the only problem. The vet still needed to find his owner.”

Olivia explained S’mores owner could not be found so he was given to “Mutts In A Rut Rescue,” a Cleveland-based dog rescue dedicated to saving dogs from death row in Cleveland and surrounding areas.

“Now, our old dog had just died. So we got guinea pigs first, then we heard about this dog, S’mores, that we decided to foster. My family and I went to go meet him and he was the perfect fit,” Olivia wrote.

Olivia and her family — mom Julia, dad Tony and 6-year-old brother Matteo — agreed to foster S’mores, and when another family expressed an interest in adopting him, the Cascheras had a decision to make: either give up S’mores or adopt him.

“After a day we decided to keep him,” Olivia said. “He is an awesome dog because he can show you even though you may be a little different, you can still achieve anything.”

She added S’mores can jump, run and perform many tricks.

“He is on his way to becoming a therapy dog as well,” wrote Olivia. “It’s like S’mores doesn’t even know he has three legs.”

In addition to Walder and McMahan, also on hand Monday were Armao, who handles dog licensing; Rescue Village Executive Director Hope Brustein; and Geauga Dog Warden Matt Granito.

Armao said the #1 Dog Contest is a great opportunity for all county fourth- and fifth-graders to participate in essay writing.

“It is very, very important to get your dog license,” she said. “It’s a way for us to be able to contact the owner, because if your dog does get lost, we can hopefully get it back home safely.”

Granito told the students he is responsible for catching lost dogs and reiterated the importance of dog licenses.

“We have dogs at the shelter all the time. We have nine dogs there right now; four of them, we’re looking for the owner, and five are looking for a new home because we could not find the owner,” Granito said. “So, it’s very important with pets — always to take care of them . . . but the most important thing is just love your pet.”

Brustein told Olivia it is amazing to have the #1 Dog in Geauga County, but said everyone who owns a dog or cat thinks their pet is the best.

“That’s what Rescue Village is about,” she said. “Rescue Village is about taking homeless animals — dogs, cats, horses, pigs, llamas, goats, turkeys, chickens, roosters, hamsters and an occasional chinchilla — and making sure they get new homes.”

Josh Weemhoff, from U.S. Congressman David Joyce’s office, presented Olivia with an American flag flown over the U.S. Capitol Building the day laws that Joyce helped write protecting pets were passed.

“Every single day we work hard here and we do our personal best,” Doering concluded the presentation. “”I bet S’mores does his personal best every single day as well. What a fantastic #1 Dog in Geauga County.”